Category: King County

In a Move With Potential Funding Consequences, King County Won’t Count Homeless Population This Year

King County Regional Homelessness Authority logoBy Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this week, the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority announced that it will forego next year’s annual count of King County’s unsheltered homeless population, leaving the region without one major source of information about how many people are living unsheltered, and in what circumstances, for two consecutive years, after last year’s count was scuttled by the COVID pandemic.

The count, which is generally regarded as an undercount, is often used to measure whether homelessness is increasing or decreasing over time, and how; in 2020, for example, the count suggested a large increase in the number of people living in their vehicles.

In its announcement, the KCRHA said that it was not required to count the region’s homeless population this year, because the US Department of Housing and Urban Development only requires a count during odd-numbered years. “King County, like most Continuum of Care agencies”—entities, like the KCRHA, in charge of an area’s homelessness system —”received a federal waiver for the unsheltered PIT Count in 2021 because of COVID, and 2022 is not a required year.”

“For 2021, HUD allowed [continuum of care agencies, or CoCs] to skip that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this year there is no allowance to skip the [point-in-time] count if they missed last year. If the CoC did not conduct a PIT count in January 2021, then the CoC must conduct a PIT count in January 2022 to meet the CoC program requirements.” —HUD regional spokeswoman Vanessa Krueger

In fact, according to HUD regional affairs spokeswoman Vanessa Krueger, the KCRHA is required to conduct a count this year—as is every Continuum of Care (CoC) agency that skipped the count last year. By opting out, the KCRHA will fail to meet a mandatory requirement to serve as the agency that receives federal funds from HUD.

Specifically, Krueger said in an email, “CoCs are required to conduct a [point-in-time] count every other year. For 2021, HUD allowed CoCs to skip that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this year there is no allowance to skip the PIT count if they missed last year. If the CoC did not conduct a PIT count in January 2021, then the CoC must conduct a PIT count in January 2022 to meet the CoC program requirements.” (Emphasis in original.)

HUD’s website goes into greater detail about this requirement, noting that “[w]hile HUD will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation, it does not plan on granting exceptions to the PIT count” in 2022. “CoCs should be preparing to count” this year if they received a waiver from the count last year, the website says.

According to Krueger, declining to do the mandatory count this year doesn’t mean that the KCRHA will automatically lose out on federal funding next year or risk its status as the region’s Continuum of Care. What it does mean is that HUD will knock points off the KCRHA’s score when it applies for federal funding in the future through a process called a Notice of Funding Opportunities, which could reduce its competitiveness for federal funding in the future.

The KCRHA appears to be unique among agencies across the state in declining to count the region’s homeless population after receiving an exemption from HUD last year. According to Washington State Department of Commerce Penny Thomas, “We don’t know of any other CoCs or counties that are opting out of the unsheltered count in 2022. As far as we know, everyone will do an unsheltered count.”

KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens acknowledged this on Tuesday, saying that the agency was aware the decision “may have docked us a point” in future competitions for federal funding. On Wednesday, the agency had updated its site to say that they have discussed the decision to forego  the count, and KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens said the authority would have more to share about its official correspondence with HUD soon.

The KCRHA appears to be unique among agencies across the state in declining to count the region’s homeless population after receiving an exemption from HUD last year. According to Washington State Department of Commerce Penny Thomas, “We don’t know of any other CoCs or counties that are opting out of the unsheltered count in 2022. As far as we know, everyone will do an unsheltered count.”

In announcing its decision to forego the one-night count, the KCRHA raised a number of issues with the count itself, calling it an “inaccurate” representation of the region’s homeless population that relies on “what volunteers see during a few hours in the early morning, in a neighborhood that may be unfamiliar to them, recorded on a paper tally sheet, at a time when there could be heavy rain or cold.” Undercounting the region’s unsheltered homeless population, the announcement continued, could result in less funding and a reduced public sense of urgency.

Under an FAQ item titled “If the PIT Count is so inaccurate, why does HUD require it?”, the agency wrote that the count, “by default and without an alternative, has simply become a part of the regulatory environment in order to receive federal funding.”

Alison Eisinger, the director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, agreed that the one-night count is, by definition, an undercount of the region’s unsheltered homeless population. But she said the count, which was organized by SKCCH for 37 years before transferring to All Home, the KCRHA’s predecessor, has served a useful purpose over the years and is based in sound methodology.

“We constructed a model that effectively used multiple methods, produced quality data, and engaged over a thousand people in a meaningful way—and we leveraged the whole effort to energize our state and local advocacy,” Eisinger said. “There’s a lot to learn from our years of work, and from the attempts under All Home to experiment with other approaches.” Continue reading “In a Move With Potential Funding Consequences, King County Won’t Count Homeless Population This Year”

Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget

1. Starting January 1, King County will a new interim sheriff: Patti Cole-Tindall, previously an undersheriff in the King County Sheriff’s Office, will assume the role until County Executive Dow Constantine appoints a permanent sheriff in mid-2022.

Last year, county voters approved a charter amendment that sets up a process for appointing, rather than electing, the King County sheriff. Tindall will be King County’s first appointed sheriff in more than two decades.

Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Tindall served as both the director of the county’s labor relations unit and interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office.

At a press conference Tuesday, Tindall said that she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent sheriff or for permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, the two most prominent law enforcement job openings in the county. “I see my value in this appointed process as being there to help the permanent sheriff be successful,” she said. The county council, with input from a panel of sheriff’s staff, community members and local government representatives, is still reviewing candidates to become the permanent sheriff.

Constantine also debuted his proposal to provide hiring and retention incentives for sworn sheriff’s officers, which county council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduces as an emergency amendment to the county’s 2022 budget today. The proposal would provide $15,000 to officers who transfer from other departments, $7,500 to new hires, and a one-time $4,000 bonus to every officer in the department. Constantine argued that while the sheriff’s office, which has 60 vacant officer positions, isn’t currently struggling to meet demand, the incentives might help attract and retain officers as a growing number of officers reach retirement age.

King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) President Mike Mansanarez told reporters he supports the hiring and retention incentives. His counterpart at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, Mike Solan, voiced his skepticism about a similar hiring incentive program introduced by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in October.

2. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a $7.1 billion 2022 city budget that provides new funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, preserves the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan while restoring the city’s depleted reserves, and keeps Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Seattle Police Department largely intact, shaving about $10 million off the mayor’s initial $365.4 million proposal.

As budget chair Teresa Mosqueda emphasized twice on Monday, the budget the council adopted doesn’t require SPD to lay off any officers, nor does it eliminate any officers’ salaries. Instead, the council saved $2.7 million by assuming SPD will lose more officers next year than Durkan’s budget projected—125, instead of 91—and moving their unspent salaries out of SPD’s budget. Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget”

Council Declines to Fund Two Big-Ticket Asks from Homelessness Authority

By Erica C. Barnett

As the Seattle City Council closes out its budget deliberations this week, two big-ticket items that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority asked the city to fund will not be on the list. Both proposals were targeted specifically at unsheltered people living in downtown Seattle, a political priority for both mayor-elect Bruce Harrell and downtown business interests, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The first, a high-acuity shelter to help stabilize unsheltered people experiencing health crises in downtown Seattle, will only receive a $5 million downpayment on the KCRHA’s $19.4 million ask. The city plans to combine with another $5 million from the county to begin work on a shelter—or multiple shelters—that will eventually be able to accommodate 150 people.

The second, a $7.6 million plan to hire 69 “peer navigators”—people who have been homeless themselves—to help unsheltered people navigate the homelessness system, will not receive any funding, although the council’s proposed budget doesn’t preclude the possibility of funding such a program in the future. Peer navigation programs are common in other service areas, such as behavioral and public health, but are a fairly new concept for the homeless service system. 

“People are burned out right now. I don’t think it would be at all a great time to turn to any of our providers and say, ‘Now do 220 percent,’ so we have to figure out what’s possible inside the capacity that exists.”—KCRHA CEO Marc Dones

Instead, the budget includes a statement of legislative intent—basically, a short-term directive—asking the KCRHA to come up with a plan for peer navigation that includes existing service providers that are already doing essentially the same work, rather than inventing an entirely new program from scratch that leaves current providers out. REACH and the Public Defender Association already employs outreach workers who have experienced homelessness, criminal legal system involvement, behavioral health challenges, and other circumstances that qualify them as their clients’ peers, for example.

“We’re asking the authority to develop the idea a little bit more with some existing organizations who do extensively employ people with lived experience [by talking] about how we can sync up the peer navigation concept with some of our existing outreach techniques to make sure there’s not redundancies with existing organizations or issues with delivering that service,” City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the council’s homelessness committee, said. “We didn’t feel like we were quite at the place where that was a fundable-level project yet.”

KCRHA director Marc Dones agreed that REACH and other groups do “some longitudinal case management,” in which one person serves as a consistent point of contact for an unsheltered person over time, but added that scaling up this kind of work will require far more funding than the authority currently has.

“We’re going to have to see what’s the maximum here that we can realistically do, without saying we’ll do it in on bubblegum and shoestring,” Dones said. “In this instance, we are lucky that we do have some really strong place-based organizations downtown,” such as the PDA’s Just Care program and REACH, “and we do have organizations that have that longitudinal capacity, so it’s not like we’re just not going to do anything, but we do have to step back and take stock. People are burned out right now. … I don’t think it would be at all a great time to turn to any of our providers and say, ‘Now do 220 percent,’ so we have to figure out what’s possible inside the capacity that exists.” Continue reading “Council Declines to Fund Two Big-Ticket Asks from Homelessness Authority”

City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.

King's Inn
King’s Inn

By Erica C. Barnett

Both the city of Seattle and the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) have said they hope to extend the contracts for two hotel-based shelters until the middle of 2022—months longer than the existing contracts, which end on January 31. But it’s unclear where the money will come from, or whether the shelter providers themselves are on board with

Earlier this year, after a lengthy debate, the city approved contracts with three service providers—Chief Seattle Club, the Low-Income Housing Institute, and Catholic Community Services—to operate two hotels in downtown Seattle on a short-term (10-month) basis. The new program, which launched in April, was supposed to move people swiftly from the street into private-market apartments using “rapid rehousing” rent subsidies, which assume that a person will be able to earn enough money to pay full market rent within several months to a year.

“We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing.”—LIHI Director Sharon lee

In theory, this constant churn would make it possible for fewer than 200 hotel rooms to move many hundreds of people in to permanent housing during the 10 months the city planned to keep them open, as people moved indoors, stabilized, and quickly found apartments they could pay for with their rapid-rehousing subsidies. Chief Seattle Club was chosen to run the rapid rehousing program at King’s Inn in Belltown, and Catholic Community Services operates the rapid rehousing program at the Low Income Housing Institute-run Executive Pacific Hotel downtown.

In reality, this never happened at anything close to the scale the mayor’s office predicted when they were talking up the program last year. Instead, the city designated the hotels as receiving sites for people swept from large encampments, including high-profile sweeps at Miller Park, Denny Park, Cal Anderson Park, and Pioneer Square.

LIHI director Sharon Lee told PubliCola she is “very concerned about what to do, as the end of January 2022 is fast approaching and we have over 140 people living in the hotel. … We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing. We would also have to use attrition and stop taking in new people at EHP to meet the January deadline.”

Anne Martens, a spokeswoman for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, says extending both of the hotel contracts is “a priority for the RHA”—a priority that could be funded using “underspend” (money left over) from HSD’s 2021 budget.

Derrick Belgarde, director of the Chief Seattle Club, said CSC isn’t “keen on extending” their contract at King’s Inn, due to issues at the site (the elevator doesn’t work) and the mismatch between the people living at the hotel, a third of whom are elderly or disabled, and rapid rehousing.

In July, PubliCola reported that CSC plans to move many of the people currently living at King’s Inn into CSC’s own permanent supportive housing, including some units that haven’t been finished yet. However, that plan assumed people would have access to rapid rehousing subsidies for at least a year, which isn’t happening; according to Belgarde, funding for CSC’s rapid rehousing program is set to expire in September, before all the new housing is available.

“We have consistently been telling members they have a 12-month subsidy,” Belgarde said. “The [rapid rehousing] contract is moving to KCRHA so we plan to negotiate an extension with them directly.” Continue reading “City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.”

As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent

Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Councilmember Andrew Lewis

 

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of 2021, the city of Seattle will cede direct control over all its existing homeless service contracts to the King County Regional Homeless Authority. But the city’s 2022 budget deliberations have made one thing clear: The city still expects to have a direct hand in how the money it provides to the authority gets spent, down to the line-item level of earmarking funds for specific purposes.

The city could send the new authority up to $150 million next year, including both funding for existing contracts (which the authority will retain, unchanged, in 2022) and for extras requested by city council members and the KCRHA itself.  Of about $40 million city council members have proposed adding to the city’s budget for homeless services next year, about $12 million would expand or extend existing programs or fund new priorities, all through what the budget describes as “contracts” between the Human Services Department and the KCRHA, which is independent from the city.

For example, three budget amendments from homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis would provide a total of $1.5 million for YouthCare, which serves youth and young adults, to provide COVID pay and time off for workers and continue or expand programs like a youth shelter relocated to a larger location during COVID and a barista training program. Another amendment, by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand funding for the city’s RV outreach and parking ticket mitigation program, which Durkan, for the second year in a row, has proposed eliminating.

A spokeswoman for the KCRHA, Anne Martens, said that any money the council adds through the city’s budget process “will be included in our service agreement with the City” but referred more detailed questions about how the contracts would work to HSD. According a spokesman for HSD, the contracts will be part of a “master services agreement” between the homelessness authority and the city, similar to an existing agreement between the city and county for public health services. 

Councilmember Andrew Lewis acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose.

In addition to the amendments council members initiated on their own, the authority is asking for $27.6 million to fund a new high-acuity shelter for people living with serious physical and behavioral health challenges downtown, peer navigators to help unhoused access shelter and services, and funding for administrative costs that the KCRHA didn’t include in its initial budget.

Lewis, who sits on the regional authority’s governing board, acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose. Councilmember Kshama Sawant has proposed just such a proviso on $9 million in funding for the authority, which, under her amendment, could only fund new and existing tiny house villages, a shelter type that KCRHA CEO Marc Dones has frequently criticized.

In recent years, the council has used provisos to try to prevent Mayor Jenny Durkan from repurposing funds for her own budget priorities, with mixed success. Continue reading “As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent”

Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Council voted today to remove Kathy Lambert, the East King County Republican facing a difficult reelection battle this year, from all of her leadership roles on council committees.

Earlier this month, as first reported on Twitter by PubliCola, Lambert sent a mailer to voters portraying her opponent, Sarah Perry, as a “socialist…anti-police puppet” being manipulated by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her South King County council colleague Girmay Zahilay. The message to white voters—if you elect Perry over Lambert, scary Black and brown leftists (and one Jew) will impose their agenda on your communities—was barely subtext.

The motion, sponsored by council chair Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said that Lambert’s mailer had “adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.” A related ordinance eliminated the health and human services committee, which Lambert chaired, and combined its duties with that of the law and justice committee, chaired by Zahilay.

“People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities. … I don’t believe that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation.”—King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert

In a statement after the vote, Balducci said Lambert’s “mailer and subsequent statements have undermined our ability to work with each other, our staff’s confidence in us as leaders, and our reputation and relationships with outside organizations and agencies. Based on those impacts, it was imperative that we take concrete action quickly.”

Before the vote, the council’s Employment and Administration Committee, which includes all nine council members, held a lengthy executive session to discuss a “Personnel Matter related to Council’s Policies and Procedures Against Harassment and Discrimination. Balducci confirmed in her statement that the council is considering an investigation into whether Lambert’s mailer violated the council’s anti-harassment policy.

Both the motion and the ordinance passed unanimously, but not before Lambert gave a self-pitying, unapologetic speech that minimized the harm the mailer had caused and accused her colleagues of ulterior motives.

The council’s decision to remove her from leadership roles, Lambert said, was “clearly not about race, but about political opportunity to damage my reelection campaign.” Calling the mailer merely “one lapse in judgment” in decades on the council, Lambert accused her colleagues of trying to push “Seattle-centric ideas” by empowering Zahilay to oversee health and human services as part of his committee.

“The people in this county are worried about public safety, crime and response times due to political decisions, people are smart. They see the data and the needs. People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities.”

“I am not going to allow one poorly depicted picture to find who I am,” Lambert said. After the vote, she added, “I don’t believe, as I said earlier, that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation, and I hope that for everybody who’s in politics, that you do understand what’s going on.”

Of course, what happens to a politician’s reputation as the result of their own actions is largely out of their control; voters will decide in November whether to reelect a conservative Republican who opposes harm reduction, has floated conspiracy theories about “shredded ballots,” supports anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers,” and has expressed anti-labor and pro-Trump views, and also sent out a racist mailer. Lambert was on her heels long before the latest controversy, for one simple reason: Her district is changing, as more people move to Issaquah and dilute the power of the white, conservative, rural areas that reliably vote for Republicans.

In late September, Lambert wrote a letter to the chair of the King County Districting Committee, which is in charge of redrawing the lines for county council districts every 10 years in response to demographic shifts, asking that the city of Issaquah be removed from her district, and that the commission shift her district’s boundaries to include more of the rural Sammamish Valley. She added that if the commission needed to move more voters out of her district, they could take some of Redmond as well. Continue reading “Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District”

With Changes on the Horizon for the King County Sheriff’s Office, a New Police Oversight Director Looks for Opportunity

OLEO director Tamer Abouzeid
Tamer Abouzeid

By Paul Kiefer

Next January, a new, appointed King County sheriff will replace the elected incumbent, Mitzi Johanknecht,  just as the county’s contract with its largest police union expires.

For Tamer Abouzeid, the new director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)—the county’s independent police oversight agency—the changes are an opportunity for his office to expand its impact. “When someone comes in as an elected sheriff, they believe that they can do what they want because the people elected them,” Abouzeid said. “That’s not going to be true of the next person.”

OLEO’s two most recent permanent directors each served a single term, in part because of strained relationships with current and past sheriffs, who rarely adopted the policy changes OLEO recommended. Although King County voters passed a law in 2015 allowing OLEO to investigate uses of deadly force and misconduct complaints—transforming them from an advisory agency to an investigative one—the county’s 2020 contract with the King County Police Officers Guild defanged the new law by preventing the office from investigating misconduct allegations against union members.

The current union contract still limits OLEO to the mostly advisory role of reviewing the sheriff’s internal investigations after the fact and issuing policy recommendations. With its authority reduced, OLEO has struggled to make an impact: Of 16 sets of policy recommendations issued by OLEO since 2018, the sheriff’s office has taken no action on more than half, including a recommendation to extend the sheriff’s policy against discrimination to cover off-duty conduct.

OLEO can review the sheriff’s misconduct investigations and determine, or certify, that an investigation was thorough and objective; however, whether OLEO certifies an investigation has little practical impact. According to OLEO’s annual report, the office only declined to certify 12 investigations out of the 116 they reviewed, including five that included allegations of excessive force.

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King County Executive Dow Constantine and the county council will begin considering candidates for sheriff by the end of this year, and with or without a permanent replacement, Johanknecht leaves office by January. But Abouzeid says OLEO isn’t putting things on hold for the next three months. “We get a chance to put our business in order so that the next sheriff has a clear picture of what OLEO can do, what we’ve recommended, and what they would need to do to get our recommendations off the ground,” Abouzeid told PubliCola on Wednesday, one day after presenting OLEO’s annual report to the King County Council.

Those preparations, he said, will include getting a better sense of what data the sheriff’s office collects and prioritizing OLEO’s backlog of policy recommendations. Some of OLEO’s unimplemented recommendations include mandating in-car and body-worn video cameras, requiring undercover officers to receive specialized undercover training, and instructing officers that “speculative, generalized concerns about a subject escaping and harming innocent third parties is an insufficient basis for the application of deadly force.” Continue reading “With Changes on the Horizon for the King County Sheriff’s Office, a New Police Oversight Director Looks for Opportunity”

Lambert’s Colleagues Denounce Racist Mailer, Cops Debate Use of Projectile Launchers, and a Provider Recounts Street Sink Frustration

1. Six members of the King County Council—all Democrats—condemned Republican County Councilmember Kathy Lambert yesterday for a campaign mailing to some of East King County constituents that implied Lambert’s opponent, Sarah Perry, is being controlled by a shadowy cabal made up of Jews, socialists, and people of color.

The mailer showed three unrelated elected officials of color—Vice President Kamala Harris, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and Lambert’s own colleague, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—along with US. Sen. Bernie Sanders, looming above a Photoshopped image of Perry as a marionette, a classic anti-semitic trope. Harris, Sanders, and Sawant appear to be laughing while Zahilay pulls Perry’s strings.

The message to white Eastside voters is as clear as an “OK” hand sign: If you don’t reelect Lambert, brown, Black, and Jewish Democrats will take over the Eastside and impose their left-wing values on you and your family. But just in case the dog whistles were too subtle, the mailer is emblazoned: “SARAH WOULD BE A SOCIALIST PUPPET ON THE EASTSIDE PUSHING THEIR AGENDA. SARAH PERRY IS BACKED BY SEATTLE SOCIALIST LEADER GIRMAY ZAHILAY WHO WANTS TO DEFUND THE POLICE.” The flip side calls Perry an “ANTI-POLICE PUPPET.” 

Lambert is currently fighting for her political life in a diversifying East King County district where 60 percent of primary-election voters supported one of two Democrats over the 20-year Republican incumbent.

“Put simply, this is a racist piece of political mail. It has no place in any public or private discourse here in King County,” the six council members said. “Planning, authorizing and mailing a communication like this betrays ignorance at best, deep seated racism at worst. Regardless, it demonstrates disrespect for the fundamental duty that the residents of King County give to all of their elected representatives—the duty to respect and serve everyone who resides in King County, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
The council members—Zahilay, Claudia Balducci, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Dave Upthegrove, Joe McDermott, and Rod Dembowski—demanded that Lambert apologize to Zahilay and Perry “for subjecting everyone, especially our friends, families and constituents of color, to this hurtful and painful communication.”
PubliCola first posted the full mailer on Twitter Wednesday morning.

“Although it’s led and orchestrated by the city, the city is not interested, really, in bringing anyone to help us… They’re looking for partners like nonprofit organizations that have direct access to water that would be able to make their water available. So it’s like—now you’re relying on us.”—David Sauvion, Rainier Beach Action Coalition

2. The Rainier Beach Action Coalition, which works to promote affordable housing and equitable development in Southeast Seattle, was one of many organizations that expressed an interest in setting up a street sink to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases, particularly among people experiencing homelessness.

But, according to RBAC Food Innovation District strategist David Sauvion, the organization decided against installing a sink after the city informed them that they would be wholly responsible for providing water to the location, making sure it was ADA compliant, and maintaining the sink, all without any direct support from the city.

“Although it’s led and orchestrated by the city, the city is not interested, really, in bringing anyone to help us… They’re looking for partners like nonprofit organizations that have direct access to water that would be able to make their water available. So it’s like—now you’re relying on us.”

Sauvion said RBAC wouldn’t have minded paying for the water; the problem was that RBAC wanted to install a sink where it would actually get some use, next to a bus stop on the southeast corner of South Henderson Street and MLK Way South, rather than directly in front of their office, which is in a house on a quiet corner across the street. “It’s just not a place where we see a lot of homeless people,” Sauvion said.

As for the city’s insistence that nonprofit groups should be willing to provide ongoing maintenance, including graywater disposal, without help from the city, Sauvion said, “why don’t we do that? Why don’t we just rely on everybody else to provide the services the city should be providing?”

The founders of the Street Sink project, Real Change, spoke to about 100 organizations about hosting a street sink. Of those, just nine met all of the city’s requirements, and only five told the city they were interested in moving forward. Since the Street Sink project started in May 2020, just one sink has been installed.

3. During Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting Wednesday, Mark Mullens—the sole police officer on the commission—revisited an ongoing point of tension between the Seattle Police Department’s command staff and its rank-and-file.

“Is it not true that the 40 millimeter launcher is banned?” he asked Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, referring to a gun that fires large rubber projectiles as an alternative to live ammunition.

“That is not true,” replied Diaz, who was attending the meeting to answer questions from the commission. Continue reading “Lambert’s Colleagues Denounce Racist Mailer, Cops Debate Use of Projectile Launchers, and a Provider Recounts Street Sink Frustration”

As COVID Cases at Encampments and Shelters Rise, Many Are Reluctant to Enter County Quarantine Sites

Kent isolation and quarantine facility
Screenshot: King County Youtube

By Erica C. Barnett

An alarming increase in COVID cases among people experiencing homelessness has been exacerbated in recent weeks, homeless service providers say, by rumors that if people enter a county-run isolation and quarantine site, they won’t be allowed to leave.

And even before these rumors began circulating widely, many unhoused people who tested positive for COVID were reluctant to enter isolation and quarantine, for reasons that ranged from active substance use to the fear that if they left an encampment, they would lose everything they had—a not unreasonable assumption, given the recent uptick in encampment sweeps.

“The resistance, in my experience, has been across the board,” Dr. Cyn Kotarski, medical director for the Public Defender Association, said. “I haven’t met anyone so far who doesn’t have some fear and some resistance to go, and that’s mostly just because it’s overwhelming. It can feel pretty scary to think that you don’t know where you’re going or why, especially when you’re taking someone out of their own environment and their own community,” Kotarski said. The PDA is a partner on several efforts to move unsheltered people into hotels during the pandemic, including Co-LEAD and JustCare.

Although early reports suggested that people living outdoors are less susceptible to COVID infection than those living in group quarters like congregate shelters, the more contagious delta variant could lead to more infections in both indoor and outdoor locations. During the week that ended September 10, King County counted 41 people experiencing homelessness who tested positive for COVID—an undercount, since it only accounts for county testing events.

According to King County Public Health spokeswoman Kate Cole, as of last week, there were 22 active COVID cases associated with encampment outbreaks, defined as two or more people who have tested positive at an encampment—an “increase from baseline” of “one to four cases per month associated with encampments.” A review of the county’s weekly reports shows a steady increase in cases that began in early August and hasn’t abated.

“The facilities are not secure, and staying is totally optional. When people come in, we say, ‘Your isolation period is this long, your quarantine period is this long. If you do not want to stay the whole time, let’s talk about it.'”—Hedda McClendon, King County

The increase in COVID cases has impacted every part of the county’s service system. The county’s public health department offers testing and transportation for people who test positive, but service providers and county officials say the system is stretched thin, with long waits for transportation and even testing. According to Cole, the current wait for a test by the county’s HEART E Team, one of two teams that performs testing at homeless encampments, can be as long as five to seven days. When someone living in an encampment tests positive, an outreach provider often must wait with them for hours until a county vehicle arrives to take them to isolation and quarantine, increasing the likelihood that they’ll give up and decide not to go. 

Just getting someone on the phone, outreach workers say, can be a challenge. “You call in and they take your number, but if you call back, it’s an automated line and you have to try to reach the person you were talking to,” Dawn Shepard, the south district outreach coordinator for REACH, said. If an outreach worker or unsheltered person misses a call from the county’s COVID hotline, Shepard says, they’ll have to start the whole process over again, “and by that point the person’s just losing interest.” Currently, Shepard added, “It’s taking us about eight hours from coordination to pickup.”

The county, through a partnership with T-Mobile, has handed out about 500 cell phones for outreach providers to distribute to clients, according to Cole, but Stewart says they need more, along with rapid COVID tests so that people don’t have to wait for days to get tested. Currently, rapid tests are hard to come by and expensive when they are available.

Meanwhile, the number of people staying at the Kent isolation and quarantine site, where 60 rooms are currently available, has increased from zero to 50 virtually “overnight,” King County COVID Emergency Services Group director Hedda McClendon said, stretching resources thin. If all the rooms fill up, the county will have to start triaging people based on test results, exposure, and other qualifications, turning people away if their cases aren’t severe.

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Shepard said that in the early days of the pandemic, “we really didn’t see folks that were living outside contracting the disease…  largely because the viral load is much lower when you’re outside. Now, though, I think it’s safe to say that with the delta variant, our clients don’t have the same protection, because we’re seeing it all over the city.”

Shelter providers, including Compass and WHEEL, also confirm that they’ve seen an increase in cases; according to WHEEL organizer Michele Marchand, COVID “is ripping through many, many homeless programs and communities,” including WHEEL’s women’s shelter at First Presbyterian Church on First Hill, which has seen at least 11 positive cases in the past few weeks. “We’ve had to stop doing intakes now because of this outbreak,” Marchand continued, adding that the organization is seeking funds for hotel vouchers “to meet the immediate need during this current crisis.”

Charlene Mitchell, the program manager at the Compass Housing-run women’s shelter Jan and Peter’s Place, said that the shelter requires people who test positive to stay “in their bed area” while they wait to be taken to the site in Kent, a process that’s considerably faster than testing and moving people living unsheltered. (Currently, the county uses Yellow Cabs for this purpose). She can remember one recent case when a woman left the shelter for the Kent site and decided not to stay. “She turned around [after arriving] and stayed outside in the streets and at the bus stop” after family members refused to take her in. “She recovered, but I don’t know who all she infected” while she was contagious, Mitchell said.

Shepard says that she’s encountered an increasing number of unsheltered people who tell her they have COVID-like symptoms but don’t want to be tested or go into isolation and quarantine because they’re afraid they won’t be allowed to leave. “There was this big push, when isolation and quarantine opened, that they were not going to hold people against their will, but now there are stories coming out about that happening to people.” Shepard says she takes these stories “with a grain of salt—when I’ve asked who has had that experience, it’s just like, ‘everyone knows'”—but says they’ve had an impact nonetheless. “The big thing I’m hearing right now is, ‘No, I don’t want to go because they won’t let me leave.'” Continue reading “As COVID Cases at Encampments and Shelters Rise, Many Are Reluctant to Enter County Quarantine Sites”

With Future of Tiny Houses Up In the Air, Advocates Push for Action This Year

Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee
Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates and city council members are putting pressure on Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department to move forward with three new tiny house villages—groups of small, shed-like shelters for people experiencing homelessness—this year, before the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) takes over the city’s homelessness-related contracts in 2022.

The short-term (and at this point, probably quixotic) goal is to convince Durkan and HSD’s short-staffed homelessness division to commit to moving forward with all three villages before the city’s homelessness contracts move to the KCRHA the end of the year. The long-term goal, which may be equally quixotic, is to demonstrate strong community support for tiny house villages in the face of strong opposition at the new authority, whose leader, Marc Dones, has no allegiance to what has become conventional wisdom at the city.

Earlier this year, the Seattle City Council adopted (and the mayor signed) legislation accepting $2 million in state COVID relief funding to stand up three new tiny house villages and setting aside an additional $400,000 to operate the villages once they open—the Seattle Rescue Plan. Since then, HSD has declined to issue a request for proposals to build the villages, arguing that the council doesn’t have a long-term plan to operate the villages after this year. The longer HSD waits, the more likely it is that the job of deciding whether to stand up additional tiny house villages will fall to the regional authority.

“I sure wouldn’t want to be the mayor who … wouldn’t stand up the housing that I had signed into law. I don’t think that’s a good legacy for this mayor, and I don’t think that’s what business owners and residents and services providers want to hear right now.”—City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda

On Wednesday, village supporters arranged themselves next to a mock land-use sign for project “SLU-145” to make their case for a new village on a long-vacant parcel of City Light-owned land a block away. On hand: LIHI director Sharon Lee, City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Teresa Mosqueda, and several dozen residents of the nearby Mirabella retirement community, who have raised $143,000 for the effort.

What we need is for those checks to be written now. That is in law. We cannot grind to a halt in the very moment that community needs us to be standing up shelters and services,” Mosqueda said. “By supporting the deployment, now, of the additional three tiny house villages funded and signed into law by the mayor through the Seattle Rescue Plan, we can support these immediate solutions and remain committed to building affordable housing and creating additional services.”

Lewis, who rolled out a plan to build 12 new tiny house villages called “It Takes A Village” earlier this year, told PubliCola he was frustrated that the city hasn’t added a single tiny house village all year during “the worst homelessness crisis that we’ve ever faced.”

“Tiny home villages may become our de-facto community response—warehousing and dehumanizing people into our own entrenched version of shanty towns, favelas, and slums.”—King County Lived Experience Coalition statement

“We have 295 tiny homes right now,” Lewis said. “And maybe we don’t need 2,000 tiny homes, but we certainly need more than 295. We’ve got over 4,000 people in the city who are experiencing homelessness right now. It’s just frustrating.”

Contacted after the press conference, Mosqueda added, “I sure wouldn’t want to be the mayor who saw growing homelessness during a deadly pandemic, and have my legacy be that I rejected funding, that I wouldn’t stand up the housing that I had signed into law. I don’t think that’s a good legacy for this mayor, and I don’t think that’s what business owners and residents and services providers want to hear right now.”

Tiny houses evolved out of ordinary tent encampments, as residents of both authorized and unauthorized tent cities set up semi-permanent structures, many of them no bigger than small garden sheds, to provide additional shelter from the elements. Over time, the encampments—now city-funded, standardized, and rebranded as “villages”—proliferated, spurred on by LIHI and supportive elected officials, including both council members and, at one point, Durkan herself.

Although tiny house villages are commonplace, they have detractors—including KCHRA director Dones, who has made no secret of their skepticism about the village model of shelter. Dones, a former consultant to King County who developed the model for the regional authority, has argued that people tend to stay in tiny house villages for too long compared to other shelter options, and has suggested that group homes and transitional housing may be more effective at moving people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. Continue reading “With Future of Tiny Houses Up In the Air, Advocates Push for Action This Year”